Sunday, September 4, 2011

Speaking in Korean (when you don't know how to speak Korean)

[Written while still in Seoul]

Trying to communicate in Korea is ironic – I can either dig up Korean I haven’t used for over 13 years or try to practice all the Japanese I’ve forgotten this summer with my roommate from Yale (whom I’m staying with at her 학수집 in Sinchon) – when all I want to do is speak CHINESE DARNIT. (Nonetheless, I’ll know a couple months later, I’ll be horrified at how much Chinese I’m gonna forget… my goal is to find language partners soon!) Though I’m somehow getting by with very raw Korean. My tongue will suddenly roll off random phrases I must have absorbed when I was five but just haven’t used since. Grammar is thrown out the window, but at least I can get my point across, and understanding other people talk is, of course, much less of a problem. Yeah, my Korean still sucks, but it makes me wonder how much I’ll pick up if I crashed in Korea for a couple months…

As for the country itself, people are often like, “Wow, it’s your first time in Korea (that counts), it must be like, some surreal return to the land of your forefathers…” (well, not exactly those words, but something on the lines of that). Actually, I’ve been sort of neutral about it – nothing has really surprised me or given me life revelations so far. My roommate was once asked, “Why go to Korea? It’s the worst of three worlds – everything is bigger in China and cleaner in Japan.” I might agree with the latter statement, at least. The mountains and temples in Korea are just smaller versions of the ones in China, and it’s a little on the dirty side (especially in the university district of Sinchon), though an improvement from China. I didn’t really have any preconceptions about Korea (aside from plastic surgery, which is of course, extremely true), so Korea has definitely not been a disappointment for me – just not a surprise either.

Along the lines of plastic surgery, I do agree that people just overall look better here – and no, I swear I’m not being biased because I’m Korean myself. Maybe it’s just plastic surgery, but on top of physique, there’s also the clothes people wear – I could care less about fashion, but after China, it was a relief to see that shoes actually matched outfits in Korea. And no wonder everyone says a Light summer in Korea is just FUN. Nightlife is pretty alive in Sinchon/Hongdae. There’s also a huge café culture with delicious 팥빙수 and various other Asian treats – although China still tops all when it comes to cheap street food. But overall, Seoul is pretty fun if you’re a young person. I’m also a little jealous of the setup for Light Fellows in Korea – sure, you land in Incheon without housing and feeling kind of helpless, but I feel like you have a lot more independence and leeway to decide what you want to do with your time in Korea. The 아줌마 at the 하숙집 that I’m staying at has also been nothing but wonderful – she cooks awesome breakfast and dinner everyday and gave me free bedding for my weeklong stay. There also seems to be a lot more free time to hang out with language partners, make friends, etc. Well, in the end, I really can’t speak for the Light experience in Korea unless I’ve actually gone through one myself, but I am enjoying my time here.

And maybe the fact that nothing surprises me is simply the fact that I’ve grown up in a Korean household. When I go back to the 하숙집 for dinner, it just feels like the dinner table at home again...

[most likely a blog post that I never finished... but I've long forgotten what else was on my mind at that time.] 

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